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Effective Use of Study Groups


Studying can be both isolating and ineffective when exclusively reading, re-reading, and memorizing. Many medical students, however, are reluctant to join study groups for fear that they will be an inefficient use of precious study hours. Study groups that are not structured, organized, and focused are NOT effective and can leave participants frustrated and deflated. When successful, however, studying in groups can provide a powerful reinforcement to learning.

If you have a need to demonstrate your intellectual superiority to your peers, do not join a study group. The deepest learning will occur if you are the group leader for a topic you feel you have not mastered—a topic on your “needs greater knowledge and understanding” list.



The ideal size is 2-6 individuals, ideally possessing a mix of learning styles. Group members need not be peers with whom you socialize. The less personal and more professional the better.

A realistic and achievable agenda must be decided in advance of the meeting. Adherence to the agenda is essential.

Where, when, and for how long?
Ideally groups should meet for two hour session, twice a week. It is ideal if time and place are consistent.

Each topic should be presented by a rotating member. Members should be encouraged to select topics which are a challenge and in an area where they seek additional learning. The leader is also responsible for keeping the group focused during the study session and preventing distracting socialization.

The group should agree on content before meeting. Each member should take responsibility for bringing a specific content contribution to the meeting.

Each member must be accountable to others. Members will have specific tasks before, during, and after the meeting. Rules for attendance, punctuality, and confidentiality must be made explicit.

Ideally a rotating or permanent note-taker would keep notes of the discussion. To reinforce memory, notes should be photocopied and distributed to all members within 24 hours of the meeting.

Emotional climate
Anxiety is contagious. Keep the tone of your group positive and encouraging.